Sunday, Jun 20.
I am writing in Sunday, June 20th from an apartment in Bogota. I have just said goodbye to my friend Jorge who was gracious enough to give me his bed for two nights as he shared his brothers bed. Jorge his a member of Potentia Limite, a Colombian motorcycle organization, as is Elkin who was mentioned in an earlier post. Elkin is the guy who flagged me down randomly in downtown Bogota to let me know that he rides a V-Strom.
Apart from my vacation within a vacation with JP in Panama, the last couple of days have been a departure from the rest of the trip as most of the trip has been go, go, go and I have not met to many local motorcycle riders. I have spent more days in in Bogota than I had planned. More on this shortly.
This is not to say that I wasn’t interested in seeing Bogota and surrounding areas, but a trip like this involves seeing a little of a lot of places which is somewhat different than, for example, the experiences of backpackers who see a lot of a few places, and a lot of a lot of places if they are traveling for and extended period of time. It is not uncommon for motorcycle travelers to travel slowly and spend a significant amount of time in many areas. If you a spending a year, or several years, touring around the world on a motorcycle, the experience is going to be a little different than someone (like) me who was interested in seeing significant amount of the Americas in a relatively short period of time (three months or less).
Bogota. One of the reasons that I have spent four nights in Bogota is because federal elections are currently running (as I write, votes are either being placed, or are being tallied). I have met new friends such as Jorge, Fabian and Elkin. Consensus deemed that it would be best for me to remain in Bogota and surrounding areas until Monday — the reason being is that there are security concerns around FARC and paramilitary groups.
The route that I am planning to take from Bogota to Cali and then onwards to border is generally considered safe. By this I mean it has a heavy military presence. From what I have seen and what I have been told the military, specically Army, in Colombia has undergone positive change over the last number of years. It is not uncommon to greet soldiers at the check points and they have the responsibility to inform of dangers in the area. For example, “is it safe to pass from this city to that city?”. Yes, or no. Or between what times. And so forth.
I don’t want to over blow these sentiments as they relate to me. Examples cited here are from local motorcyclists passing through “unsafe” more remote areas. Colombia, too, has adventure riders and they like to visit more remote areas in their own country. Some of these areas involve passing through FARC and paramilitary regions. In such cases, check point to check point moto-/autocades are useful and you basically “sign in” and “out” at each stop to verify safety. This scenario represents more “backwoods” areas, as we known them back home. My route is only considered a slight risk due to the federal elections and that FARC or paramilitary might go out of there way to make a public display during the election period. We agreed that I shall continue on Monday (tomorrow) once the elections are over.
Jorge, who’s English is not quite fluent but very understandable, and I have spent quite a number of hours talking about various elements of Colombia — from history, to points of interest, foods, safety, politics and so forth. It was made quite clear to me which areas of the country are clear of (organized) trouble and which areas require caution, and which areas are “no go” zones. Actually, the military would, if not completely forbid passage, would strongly advise against travel to these areas — or so it was explained to me.
So far Colombia is a very beautiful country with warm people. While I have not run into any problems, I am told to be wise and stay clear of the liars and cheats — like anywhere else. That said, my experience in Colombia to-date has been very dissimilar from North American caricature and media portrayals. While the imagery wasn’t development in a vacuum, Colombia has not been about guns or narco-trafficking, or even coffee for that matter. To be honest, I already had this expectation based on accounts by other travelers — Colombia: don’t miss it.
Today I am basically waiting out the rain in shared apartment rented to me by Fabian’s uncles. Fabian is also staying here temporarily due to his work participation with the elections as the apartment is close to downtown. The only thing it is missing is wifi. I intend to get an early start to Cali and dodge Bogota and truck traffic. While the intention was to see more of Bogota, Jorge and I spent three hours talking over breakfast and maps route planning, discussing trips and so forth. We got home (mi case es su casa) reasonable late last night.
Jorge took me out on a 12 hour ride including a major Colombian historical area where Simon Bolivar won Colombia’s freedom from Spain, and several small towns, rode around the Andean corderia, ate various foods, and eventually met up Elkin and others of Potentia Limite at a cheese shop and eventually heading back to Bogota. Ah yes…my KLR hit its 50,000km anniversary while riding on the corderra which was exciting. Is there a more suitable place? I have to admit that I was pretty tired after the ride, not being overly rested from the previous night’s sleep.
The previous night was something else. I had spent the morning at the hostal organizing my stuff as things had to be moved around for the flight over. JP having taken a small duffel of stuff I no longer wanted with me freed up some room in my large duffel so that my smaller dry bag could be used only for transporting my jacket, pants, gloves and tank bag from Panama to Colombia. All of this organizing took longer than expected and I arrived later than expected to the local Kawasaki dealership to get my oil changed. This is where I met Fabian. While his English is not strong, Fabian helped navigate through the dealership.
Elkin, the previous day, had invited me to what was communicated as a adventure touring motorcycle show. Explaining my need to get to this location for 6pm. Fabian offered to show me the way as he lived close by. He, having sold his bike in hopes of buying something more exciting like a KLR650 (as he explined), he was going to guide me via taxi. Unfortunately in the middle of rush hour Bogota a taxi was hard to find. He hopped on a bus and I was instructed to follow. In the end, we arrived at the show by nightfall, wet from rain Fabian having jogged a part of the way, taking the bus, me pushing my bike through pedestrian crossings and eventually catching a ride by a sympathetic middle aged man driving a Mercedes Benz. Fabian really went out of his way to make sure that I was safe and that I found me way.
Having been to the building the night before, I was aware that it, in some way, was associated with religious activity. Not much else was known except that Elkin is a pastor of a denomination of who’s name I cannot remember. So without hesitation or consultation my fully loaded KLR and I, dripping wet and dripping surely dripping road gunk, were ushered by security through the roll up doors, up a ramp, across the carpeted auditorium area, and into a small but growing crowd were various Suzuki V-Stroms, BMW R1200GS, and Yamaha TDM were parked.
It was sight to be seen. Surely, for the attendees of the religious event in the auditorium 20 feet away, all of these shiny, huge (by local standards) bikes raised a few eye brows. In the mix were mostly Suzuki V-Stroms, a BMW R1200GSA, a Yamaha TDM, and later a Harley. A few of these bikes sported luggage and sample camping gear. That said, I found it quite ammusing that I rolled on with my bike, filthy, wet, and somewhat oily wet, and definitely fully. If these guys wanted to provide a glipse of the adventure touring spirit to the attendees, surely I drove the point home. The fun begins…
So Fabian decides to stick around. I find Elkin and say hi, and then was introduced to other guys from the Potentia Unlimite motorcycle organization including Jorge as mentioned above. Right in the middle of the event, and between answering questions, and posing for photos, we pull out my map of Colombia and start route planning. I was rather tickled at the whole thing as what better thing to be doing at a small motorcycle gathering than route planning? Not long into the event, a video camera crew comes out and I am asked to do an interview briefly describing my trip as well as a “positive message for the youth of Colombia” — talk about being put on spot. While at first I thought the camera crew was part of the news, I believe they are associated with the G12 building in which the event was taking place.
So from not being sure whether I was even going to find the building or be at all on time, and feeling a little cocky for riding on in, I am shortly escalated from spectacle to “guest of honour” status. Elkin, now instead of being dressed like a business man like the day before, was in traditional local sandals, woolen poncho, and a sort of campasino hat as part of his pastor’s outfit. In the midst of various music presentations from Salsa to Christian rock, Elkin had presented his story of finding me as a lost sheep roaming the streets of Bogota thousands of kilometres from home to the three thousand attendees. Following a dinner of sandwiches, juice and coffee in the Pastor’s VIP lounge with the members of Potentia Limite, Elkin ushered me on stage as we watched the Christian ska/punk band from the side perform what I was told to be an anti-drug song, and then brought me front and center. There was all sorts so cheering a clapping, and surely beet red, I did my best to address the crowd (“hola”, “buenos noches”…) following Elkin’s address which was something to the effect of (in translation) “…introducinnnngggg Adammm!!!!” Egad… I hadn’t expected this. Upon exit all sorts of people were shaking my hand and asking to have pictures taken with me. So funny. I don’t know how Charley and Ewan do it.